283 U.S. 423 (1931), 19, Arizona v. California

Docket Nº:No.19, original
Citation:283 U.S. 423, 51 S.Ct. 522, 75 L.Ed. 1154
Party Name:Arizona v. California
Case Date:May 18, 1931
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 423

283 U.S. 423 (1931)

51 S.Ct. 522, 75 L.Ed. 1154




No.19, original

United States Supreme Court

May 18, 1931

Argued March 9, 10, 1931


1. The United States has power to construct a dam across a navigable river for the purpose of improving navigation, and need not first obtain approval of its plans by the state in which the dam is to be located even though this be expressly required of it by a statute of the state. P. 451.

2. On a motion to dismiss, equivalent to a demurrer, an allegation in the bill that a river is not and never has been navigable is not taken as an admitted fact if the court judicially knows the contrary. P. 452.

3. Judicial notice taken (from the evidence of history) that a large part of the Colorado River south of Black Canyon in Arizona was formerly navigable, and that the main obstacles to navigation have been the accumulations of silt coming from the upper reaches of the river system, and the irregularity in the flow due to periods of low water, and (from reports of Committees of Congress recommending the project here in question) that, in the opinion of the government engineers, the silt will be arrested by the dam, and, through use of the stored water, irregularity in the flow below Black Canyon can be largely overcome, and navigation for considerable distances both above and below the dam will become feasible. P. 453.

4. Commercial disuse of a navigable river, resulting from changed geographical conditions and a Congressional failure to deal with them, does not amount to an abandonment of it as a navigable river, or prohibit future exertion of federal control over it. P. 454.

5. The Boulder Canyon Project Act, December 21, 1928, authorizes the Secretary of the Interior at the expense of the United States, to construct at Black Canyon on the Colorado River a dam, a storage reservoir, and a hydroelectric plant; provides for their control, management, and operation by the United States, and declares that the authority is conferred "subject to the terms of the Colorado River Compact,"

for the purpose of controlling the floods, improving navigation, and regulating the flow of the Colorado River, providing for storage and for the delivery of the stored waters thereof for reclamation of public lands and other beneficial uses exclusively within the United States, and for the generation of electrical energy as a means of making the project herein authorized a self-supporting and financially solvent undertaking.

The compact referred to is an agreement for the apportionment of the water of the river and its tributaries, entered into by all the states

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in which they flow except Arizona. The compact declares that,

inasmuch as the Colorado River has ceased to be navigable for commerce and the reservation of its waters for navigation would seriously limit the development of its basin, the use of its waters for purposes of navigation shall be subservient to the uses of such waters for domestic, agricultural, and power purposes.

The compact is approved by the Act. This was a suit by Arizona, against the Secretary of the Interior and the states which made the compact, to enjoin operations under the Act as invasions of Arizona's interests in the river and as threatening existing and future use of the water within her limits, principally for irrigation.


(1) The Court cannot inquire into the motives of the members of Congress in passing the Act. P. 455.

(2) As the river is navigable and the means which the Act provides are not unrelated to the control of navigation, the erection and maintenance of the dam and reservoir are clearly within the powers conferred upon Congress. Whether the particular structures proposed are reasonably necessary is not for the Court to determine. Id.

(3) The fact that purposes other than navigation will also be served could not invalidate the exercise of the authority conferred by the Act even if those other purposes, standing alone, would not have justified an exercise of Congressional power. Id.

(4) Although the authority conferred by the Act is therein stated to be "subject to the Colorado River Compact," which instrument would make the improvement of navigation subservient to all other purposes, yet the specific statement of primary purpose in the Act governs the general references to the compact, and the Court may not assume that Congress had no purpose to aid navigation, and that its real intention was that the stored water shall be so used as to defeat the declared primary purpose P. 456.

(5) Possibility that the power to regulate navigation may be abused is not an argument against its existence. P. 457.

(6) There is no occasion to decide whether the authority to construct the dam and reservoir might not also have been constitutionally conferred for the specified purpose of irrigating public lands of the United States, or for the specified purpose of regulating the flow and preventing floods in this interstate river; or as a means of conserving and apportioning its waters among the states equitably entitled thereto, or for the purpose of performing international obligations. P. 457.

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6. In support of the prayer for injunction, Arizona alleges that the mere existence of the Act will invade her quasi-sovereign rights in respect of the appropriation of waters within or on her borders; that the state has great need of further appropriations from the river for irrigation; that vested rights of appropriation under her laws can be acquired only by diverting the water and applying it to beneficial use; that, owing to topographical conditions, this can only be accomplished through large and costly projects, involving large-scale financing that will be impossible unless it clearly appear at or before the time of constructing the requisite works that vested rights to permanent use of the water will be acquired; that actual projects have been planned and approved under the state's laws which look to appropriation of a large part of the unappropriated water of the river, and which would irrigate an immense area in the state, including a large area of state land; that the needed appropriations will be prevented because, under the Act, it is proposed to store the entire unappropriated flow at the dam, and Arizona, and those claiming under her, will not be permitted to take water from the reservoir except upon agreeing that the use shall be subject to the compact, by the terms of which they will not be entitled to appropriate any water in excess of that to which there are now perfected rights in Arizona, and that the Act prevents Arizona, and those claiming under her, from acquiring necessary rights of way over lands of the United States for the irrigation of Arizona land, by subjecting such rights to the compact.

Held that there is no ground for an injunction, because:

(1) The contention is based not upon any actual or threatened impairment of Arizona's rights, but upon assumed potential invasions. P. 462.

(2) The Act does not purport to affect any legal right of the state or limit in any way the exercise of her legal right to appropriate water. Id.

(3) Section 18 of the Act declares that nothing in it

shall be construed as interfering with such rights as the states now have either to the waters within their borders or to adopt such policies and enact such laws as they may deem necessary with respect to the appropriation, control, and use of water within their borders, except as modified

by interstate agreement. As Arizona has made no such agreement, the Act leaves her legal rights unimpaired. Id.

(4) There is no allegation of definite physical acts of present or future interference with the exercise of Arizona's right to appropriate

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water by diversion above the dam, or with enjoyment of water so appropriated, nor any specific allegation of physical acts impeding exercise of her right to make future appropriations by diversions below the dam, or limiting enjoyment of rights so acquired, unless it be by preventing an adequate flow in the river at any necessary point of diversion. P. 462.

(5) If, by operations at the dam, when completed, any then perfected right of Arizona, or of those claiming under her, should hereafter be interfered with, appropriate remedies will be available. P. 463.

(6) There is no threatened physical interference with irrigation projects approved under the Arizona law, and the Act interposes no legal inhibition on their execution. Id.

(7) There is no occasion for determining now Arizona's rights to interstate or local waters which have not yet been, and which may never be, appropriated. P. 464.

(8) This Court cannot issue declaratory decrees. Id.

(9) Arizona has no constitutional right to use, in aid of appropriation, any land of the United States, and cannot complain of the provision conditioning the use of such public land. Id.

(10) The bill should be dismissed without prejudice to an application for relief in case the stored water is used in such a way as to interfere with the enjoyment by Arizona, or those claiming under her, of any rights already perfected or with the right of Arizona to make additional legal appropriations and to enjoy the same. Id.

Hearing upon motions to dismiss a bill for an injunction, which was filed in this Court by the Arizona. The parties defendant were Ray Lyman Wilbur, Secretary of the Interior, and the States of California, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, Colorado, and Wyoming.

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BRANDEIS, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE BRANDEIS delivered the opinion of the Court.

The Boulder Canyon Project Act, December 21, 1928, c. 42, 45 Stat...

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